Ko’s From the Desert to the City
By BENJAMIN GRANDEY, Climate Scientist, PhD in Atmospheric Physics
Lawrence Ko is a well-read interdisciplinary thinker, entrepreneurial practitioner, and gentle mobiliser. These three aspects of Ko’s character shine through the prose of From the Desert to the City: Christians in Creation Care.
This short book is timely: in the face of an environmental crisis, how should Christians respond? Ko carefully considers the problem in the light of Biblical theology, before bridging to Christian spirituality. The book offers a way forward for both individual disciples and the corporate Body of Christ.
Ko begins with an observation: Asia has been developing and urbanising rapidly, bringing both benefits and environmental degradation. However, the environmental crisis has been overlooked by many evangelicals. Have we focused too much on individual spiritual salvation, neglecting the holistic gospel revealed in the Bible?
In Genesis 1-2, we learn that God created a good creation before resting on the seventh day, anticipating His presence within the perfected creation of Revelation 22. We humans exist in relation to God, other human beings, and the rest of creation. Human revolt against God broke these relationships, leading to ecological disorder, precipitating the environmental crisis. The relationships are healed through the Incarnation, “the ultimate creative act of God to redeem His creation ruined by evil”. The New Creation has already arrived in Christ. When Christ returns, the present creation will be transformed, undergoing a renewal that combines elements of both discontinuity and continuity. In the meantime, the Church is an eschatological community, the new humanity living in the present, revealing the “Kingdom vision of the New Creation”. In light of this, how should we live?
Our response should be informed by two models. First, we are stewards of the environment: making ethical decisions, we must care for the earth the way God want us to care for the earth. Second, we are priests of creation: as creatures created in God’s image, we “offer creation back to the Creator”. The stewardship model emphasises what we do; the priesthood model emphasises who we are.
The ancient spirituality of the desert fathers can help us to live as faithful disciples of Christ in 21st Century cities. For example, the disciplines of askesis and kenosis can teach us to embrace simplicity. Simplicity frees resources to be used in the service of others, reduces our environmental footprint, and enables us to live in solidarity with the poor.
God’s kingdom and God’s mission are holistic. Similarly, the Church’s mission must be holistic. The Church has a missional opportunity to shape cities and serve communities by engaging with urban sustainability. For many Christians, such engagement provides an opportunity to integrate their vocational work with missional gospel advancement.
Before concluding, Ko offers a commentary on the ten “calls” of the Lausanne Movement’s “Jamaica Call to Action”. His commentary includes practical suggestions, contextualised for Asian cities such as Singapore.
Why must God’s people care for the earth? We care because God cares. We care because we seek to reveal God’s glory.
From the Desert to the City has much to commend it. Below, I briefly outline seven strengths.
First, Ko’s approach is grounded on Biblical theology. He considers the overarching story from Genesis to Revelation. He pays careful attention to several passages, including the oft-misunderstood 2 Peter 3.
Second, Ko offers interdisciplinary engagement, drawing on diverse sources. He alludes to a scientific assessment on one page before quoting song lyrics on the next. Ko affirms the value of both the sciences and the arts.
Third, Ko draws extensively on other authors. Accordingly, From the Desert to the City serves as an entry point into much of the recent literature on creation care. Readers can identify resources for further reading.
Fourth, Ko’s discussion is both evangelical and ecumenical. Many of the authors with whom he engages are associated with evangelical Protestant traditions. Others are from non-Protestant Christian traditions. For example, Ko interacts extensively with John Zizioulas, an Eastern Orthodox theologian. Through such positive interactions, Ko celebrates some of the insights God has granted to different parts of the global Body of Christ.
Fifth, Ko includes personal anecdotes, providing a window into his own creation care journey. He also includes anecdotes from others, conveying a human touch.
Sixth, Ko highlights that what we do should flow from who we are. Rather than jumping straight to practical application, Ko takes time to reflect on Christian spirituality. May we respond to the Holy Spirit as God transforms us towards the image of His Son.
Seventh, Ko contextualises his approach for an Asian context. In particular, he addresses the contexts with which he is most familiar: East and Southeast Asia, especially his native Singapore. Ko’s approach will offer valuable insights to readers from other parts of the world, including Europe and North America. As a global Church, we must make an effort to listen to one another, learning from one another.
From the Desert to the City is a short book. Nevertheless, it covers a lot of ground. This is a book to read slowly and thoughtfully. When read slowly, the book is generally very readable.
However, some readers may stumble when reading sections that trace historical developments. For example, one paragraph mentions one project, four meetings, five dates, and nine organisations (including churches). The subsequent paragraphs proceed to mention additional organisations, meetings, and timelines, tempting me as a reader to skim these sections. Nevertheless, these sections do contain some interesting details, especially for readers who have personal connections with the organisations mentioned. Although these details might undermine readability, Ko has included them for good reason: by doing so, he acknowledges and affirms many of the people who have been involved in the creation care movement in Singapore and elsewhere. After all, the subtitle of the book is Christians in Creation Care.
This book should have something for everyone, providing nutritious food for thought. Personally – as someone who has already been exposed to creation care theology through reading and reflection – I still found much of Ko’s material to be new and refreshing. I am especially thankful to Ko for helping me to understand what it means to be a priest of creation.
The Ethos Institute Engagement Series, of which this book is a part, is intended to be a resource for pastors, leaders of the church, and Christians in general “who wish to reflect more deeply on the most important and pressing issues of today”. From the Desert to the City is well-pitched for this intended audience.
For the intended audience, I highly recommend From the Desert to the City. Furthermore, the book will be especially beneficial for Christians who engage professionally with either environmental sustainability or urban development, encouraging them as they integrate their profession with Christian spirituality.
I pray that this book will be read, inspire further reflection, and inform practical discipleship. I thank God for this valuable contribution towards “a green urban spirituality”. I pray that other authors, preachers, and everyday Christians will join Ko and others on this journey of holistic discipleship, anticipating the day when God makes all things new.